Mothers Scold Police on Unsolved Slayings

Activist Valencia Mohammed, who lost two sons to homicide, speaks to the D.C. Council's Judiciary Committee about unsolved murder cases.
Activist Valencia Mohammed, who lost two sons to homicide, speaks to the D.C. Council's Judiciary Committee about unsolved murder cases. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 24, 2006

The seven mothers all have lost sons or daughters to homicide on District streets. One mother's son was shot to death in 2003. Another lost a teenage son and daughter in a double shooting 12 years ago. A third mother's son was shot to death in a car in Northeast Washington in 2004.

The deaths were all unique and terrible experiences, the mothers testified yesterday before the D.C. Council's Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on the D.C. police department.

But the killings have at least one thing in common: They remain unsolved. And the mothers said they are frustrated and hurt because they have often felt ignored by homicide detectives working on the cases.

The mothers' emotional testimony, organized by activist Valencia Mohammed, who has lost two sons to homicide, showed the human side of broader discussions about homicide statistics, case-clearance rates, forensics labs and police deployment tactics.

"If I get murdered, don't let me get murdered in D.C.," said Mazie Lindsay, whose 23-year-old son, Sterling, was killed March 11, 2003. "It will end up a cold case."

Sitting in front of two council members and at the head of a room packed with top police officials, Lindsay said that she telephoned the detectives investigating the slaying but that they rarely called her back.

Lindsay testified that she felt police had conceded from the beginning that her son's murder would never be solved.

Shanda Smith also expressed frustration with the investigation into the 1993 killing of her son and daughter, Rodney and Volante Smith.

"We are sick and tired of the unanswered phone calls, the insensitivity, the neglect, poor conduct and attitude" of detectives, Smith testified, adding that family members often are digging for clues and trying to pass them on to police. "Mothers are sick and tired of doing your J-O-B."

Charlotte White-Gray's son, Edward Conoway Gray Jr., was fatally shot in 1999. She, too, has worked on the case, alerting police to a potential witness, she said. But investigators did not seem to pursue the leads. Then they stopped returning her calls, she said.

"Since November 2005, I have left six voice mail messages for the detective who is handling my son's case," she testified. "Not a single call was returned. . . . I know the police department is tired of me, my letters and my phone calls. I am tired also, tired of waiting for answers."

Deborah Evans-Bailey, whose daughter was killed in September 2004, said she can't even find out whether "my daughter's case is opened or closed."

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said that he was disturbed by the mothers' testimony and that the department is reviewing the way detectives keep in touch with victims' families.

"It's inexcusable that nobody gets back to family members of a homicide" victim, Ramsey said, adding that problems with following up with relatives have "plagued us for a while."

Ramsey and other police officials testified that they have made strides in improving the quality of their homicide investigations in recent years.

The homicide squad has a clearance rate of about 60 percent. That rate is the number of homicides that police said they solved in a year divided by the total number of homicides that occurred in that year. There were 195 homicides in the District last year, down from 198 in 2004.

The District has more than 4,000 unsolved homicides dating to the late 1960s.

The lack of police response "is a double hit on the victim's family, on the relatives," said council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, after the hearing.

"I also think valuable evidence is lost," he added.

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